A discussion on the proposed changes is set to take place at Senate House on Tuesdaylouis ashworth

Of the 200 student responses to the consultation on proposed changes to the Student Disciplinary Procedures, 88% supported the proposal to change the standard of proof from ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to the ‘balance of probabilities’.

The Review Committee on Discipline presented the results of the consultation, conducted in February 2019, in a report which also seeks to address concerns raised during the consultative process.

This comes ahead of a Senate House discussion regarding the proposals on Tuesday 21st May and a Regent House vote between 18th and 28th June.

The report notes that the same percentage of student respondents supported the inclusion of ‘intimate partner’ violence within the new proposed definition of ‘abusive behaviour’, the requirement of training for decision-makers, and the inclusion of a full-time specialist officer role.

The other 12% of student respondents opposed changing the standard of proof, though their position on other aspects of the proposals are not stated in the report.

The report addresses concerns raised about the proposed change to the standard of proof, arguing that ‘students want a system that they perceive to be fair’ and that cases would require supporting evidence proportionate to the severity of the allegation. This follows a legal definition of the balance of probabilities previously accepted by the University as a standard of proof within which ’the more serious the allegation, the more unlikely it is to have happened’.

It adds that the proposed change to ‘balance of probabilities’ is ‘not a test of which party is more believable’ and that ’the University will never consider whether a student’s behaviour amounted to a criminal offence.′

The report also clarifies proposed arrangements related to complainants and respondents (accused parties), stating that respondents would receive a brief summary of the complaint against them before an initial investigative meeting, after which ‘all evidence will be shared with the Respondent.’

The respondent would also be provided with the identity of the complainant, and be entitled to legal counsel throughout the duration of the investigation at their own expense.

The consultation received an additional 29 responses from a range of parties including CUSU representatives, colleges, faculties and departments, and senior members of the University. According to the report, ‘several responses focused particularly on the risks of investigating serious sexual misconduct [...] regardless of the standard of proof used’.

The Review Committee sought external legal advice regarding concerns raised during the consultation period, the conclusions of which supported the draft proposals.

According to the report, the external legal counsel concluded that it is both lawful for the University to investigate instances of serious sexual assault, and lawful to adopt the standard of proof based upon a balance of probabilities.

Legal advisors also concluded that it would not be appropriate for the University to refuse to investigate allegations based only on the fact that ‘it did not have the forensic capabilities or investigatory powers that would be deployed in a criminal investigation.’ Advisors warned that ‘this may give rise to successful claims that the University is discriminating unlawfully against Reporting Persons.’

The report’s summary of the legal advice received concludes that: ‘There is nothing in the Draft Procedure which renders it inherently unlawful or unfair’.


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The Review Committee on Student Discipline first convened in May 2018 in order to address the disciplinary procedure surrounding sexual misconduct following the institution of the ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign in 2017.

The Committee, chaired by Senior Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education Professor Graham Virgo, included senior members of the staff and student body including CUSU President Evie Aspinall and GU President Sofia Ropek-Hewson. It published its recommendations, including the change to the standard of proof, as a draft revision of the University’s Special Ordinance, Ordinance and General Board regulations, which was put to review by members of the University in May-June 2018.

The seven-week consultation followed an open meeting in Senate House on 1st May, in which members of the University were invited to offer their opinions primarily on changing the standard of proof. Campaigners from CUSU’s Women’s Campaign tied purple ribbons to the railings of Senate House on the morning of the meeting in support of the change.

109 formal comments were made over the course of last year’s consultation period. 53 responses indicated support of a change to the civil standard of proof, and 30 expressed contentment with the current standard.

The proposals are expected to be discussed at Senate House next Tuesday, followed by a Regent House vote on the proposed changes between 18th and 28th June.

  • Updated, 19th May 2019: This article was updated to clarify the report’s treatment of the balance of probabilities with regards to the severity of allegations and the relative burden of required proof

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources: